Bible Idioms: Did You Mean What I Think You Said?

From Issue: Discovery 5/2/2011

The Bible is an amazing book. It was written by men who were guided by God. Yet, God “moved” (2 Peter 1:21) those men to use human language with all of its unusual features. One of those characteristics of human language is idioms. Idioms are funny, even strange, ways to say things that the actual words do not seem to say. Some idioms we have in English include: “It’s raining cats and dogs,” and “I have a frog in my throat.” Idioms use words to give a meaning that cannot be understood from the individual meanings of the words. The people who grew up speaking English understand these idioms. But people who were not reared speaking English cannot easily understand what meaning is intended by the idioms.

The Bible was written mostly in Hebrew and Greek. Those two languages use lots of idioms. For example, the expression in the book of Job, “the sons of God” (1:6; 2:1), is a Hebrew idiom that refers to angels. The phrase “breaking of bread” in the Hebrew mind meant to eat food or have a meal. Lamentations 4:4 says, “The young children ask for bread, but no one breaks it for them.” That is, no one gives them any food. In the early church, the same phrase came to have another idiomatic meaning: to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).

When Jesus said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6:54), He was not talking literally. He did not mean that people must eat His physical flesh. He was using a Hebrew idiom that means to receive, understand, and apply His teaching. To eat Christ’s flesh means to consume His words and live by them. As Jesus made clear later in the same chapter: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). It is Jesus’ words that are of value and so must be received and obeyed.

The Bible contains many more idioms. If we learn them, we can understand our Bibles much better. Then we can know how God wants us to live so we can someday live with Him!


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